Date With Destiny for Nigeria?
There is probably one other journalist apart from myself who has followed this crop of Super Eagles players from their training base in Faro, Portugal to the cusp of history at the National Stadium in Johannesburg. I have not hidden my belief in these players and especially in Stephen Keshi's methods and mindset going into this tournament. It has now become an emotional journey for me.
I might be chatting rubbish but just as I believed that it was Zambia's destiny to win last year's tournament with the final in Gabon following the disaster of '93, I believe that here in the beautiful cities of South Africa, the Super Eagles have a date with destiny to win the tournament. It is not a slight in anyway on a Burkina Faso side who have played some absolutely beautiful football and in Jonathan Pitroipa they have one of the outstanding players of this tournament. Political shenanigans denied Nigeria a chance to defend their trophy here in '96 many believe that the power and pace of that Nigerian side at the time would have been too strong for the hosts and eventual winners Bafana Bafana.
The loss of the sweet left foot of Alain Traore for the Burkina Faso side might be balanced out by the expected absence of Emmanuel Emenike, the tournament's top striker currently. The power and pace of Emenike will be sorely missed by the Nigerians. There is nothing to make any Nigerian overconfident going into this match. T
The way Burkina Faso dismantled Ethiopia despite being a man down is still the performance of this tournament and a huge reminder of what this team is capable of doing. A team able to play neat and tidy football on the sand pit that was at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit is worthy of a place in the final and respect. A team able to overcome one of the worst refereeing performances in the semifinal against Ghana should actually be feared. Their central midfield duo of skipper Kabore and Kone have the grit and not a little skill to look after themselves. The former is blessed with a vision of passing that belies his muscular build. The goal Bance scored in the semifinal would have done his confidence the world of good so he will be ready to go and he is one huge specimen.
The Nigerian back line and midfield is expected to be the same. It is who will replace the stricken Emenike that will be a big decision for Stephen Keshi and his assistants. Musa offers a lot of pace but little end product in terms of crosses and assists. Ike Uche is the best one-on-one finisher in the squad but does not have the pace of Musa.
Nigeria has lost previous finals to Cameroon and Algeria a few with hard luck stories attached to it. Today at the National Stadium, the whole nation will be united in their support for the Super Eagles. Burkina Faso are playing in their first ever final. They are thrilled to be here but are under no pressure whatsoever to win it. So, they are most likely to be more relaxed. Stephen Keshi has the experience of being involved in three finals as a player yet he does not think it will count for much when I put it before him at the pre-match press conference. "The training methods have changed so much over the years from my playing days. I shall try and tell them from experience what to expect and how to be calm but it is a totally different time and period".
Team captain of Nigeria, Yobo, who is going to be involved in his first final despite this being his sixth tournament, says the major difference is "unity". "All the other sides I played in might have had more skill or talent and even bigger players but this team is far more united than they all were." Nigerians all over the world are uniting in prayers and support for the team. It should be enough.